Heel Pain Treatments: Orthotics or Laser Therapy?

May 2, 2019

Heel pain can be a very complex problem, with a lot of different possible causes and contributing factors.

As a result, there are also many different treatment options available, and the most effective set of procedures for your situation might not be exactly the same as the treatment we recommend for someone else. Everyone is unique, and every approach is customized.

Two of the most common—and sophisticated—treatment options we provide for heel pain are custom orthotics and MLS laser therapy. Both can provide highly effective, long-term relief for painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and more.

So, how do you know which option is for you?

(Spoiler: You may not have to decide, but more on that in a minute.)

Let’s take a look at each option to see how they are used, and how they can benefit you.

Custom Orthotics

Orthotics may seem simple, or even old-fashioned when compared to technological wonders like laser therapy. But don’t be fooled—they are still one of the best and most versatile tools we have for fighting heel pain.

(And as both manufacturing processes improve and the scientific understanding of biomechanics deepens, we’re able to provide better and better orthotics for our patients, too!)

Orthotics work because, for a significant portion of heel pain patients, poor foot structure or biomechanics is one of the main causes. In short, the way you stand and walk may be placing inordinate stress and pressure on the heel, plantar fascia, Achilles tendon—or all three.

Your orthotics not only give you extra support and cushioning to handle that stress, but they can also realign your foot position and improve your walking mechanics. In other words, it actually removes the cause of your heel pain, so that it doesn’t come back.

Stretching exercise

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is an advanced and highly effective treatment option for patients struggling with all kinds of musculoskeletal soft tissue pain—chronic or acute. This very much includes most conditions that cause heel pain.

We’ll spare you the advanced technical details, but here’s the basic story. The laser is able to deliver light energy deep into your tissues, wherever you’re dealing with injury or inflammation. Your cells can actually use that energy and start to accelerate their natural healing processes.

Circulation increases, cellular metabolism accelerates, swelling decreases, and a whole bunch of other beneficial physiological processes kick into gear. In short, this means:

  • Your pain goes away faster—in some cases a lot faster.
  • Your cells are actually able to regenerate and repair themselves faster, too—dramatically reducing the overall recovery time from an injury.

In some cases, that “kick start” from laser therapy is what it takes for your body to get “over the hump” from a chronic inflammatory condition that has persisted for months.

Oh, and before you ask: laser therapy is completely painless and extremely safe. It requires no medications or anesthesia. In fact, there are no known side effects whatsoever. It’s one of the least intrusive treatments ever developed, and yet it produces amazing results for more than 85 percent of the people who use it.

Comparing and Contrasting

As you can see, while both treatment options do have a lot of overlap in terms of the kinds of conditions they can treat, they work in different ways and target different things.

With orthotics, the goal is to put your foot in a better position to minimize the amount of stress your heels endure on a daily basis. Address the source of the pain, and the pain goes away.

But wearing orthotics doesn’t exactly treat the injured, inflamed tissues themselves, per se. Though by reducing daily wear and tear, they may allow your body to finally begin repairing itself faster than you can break it down again!

With laser therapy, you’re getting accelerated natural healing for the torn or stretched soft tissue fibers themselves, and that means you can get back to pain-free, restriction-free living a lot sooner. That’s an awesome deal for everyone, but especially athletes and those who work on their feet. And because it is actually repairing the tissues rather than just treating the symptoms, the relief can be long-lasting as well.

However, if there’s a serious biomechanical or alignment issue that’s putting extra strain on your heels, laser therapy isn’t going to fix that.

There’s also the question of what treatment itself looks like.

For custom orthotics, you’ll get fitted at your initial appointment. Then you’ll have to come back a week or two later once the orthotics have arrived from the lab, and we’ll make any final adjustments that may be needed. After that, just come back every year so we can check how they are working and make adjustments, or sooner if you start to experience heel pain again.

With laser therapy, individual treatment sessions can be completed in as little as 10 minutes, and usually not more than 15. A typical treatment course will require around 6-12 total sessions, with two or three sessions per week.

Why Not Both?

We have a confession to make.

We’ve set this up as an either/or question, but the truth is that there’s nothing stopping us from using both treatments in combination to relieve your heel pain—and quite often, that’s exactly what we do for patients who want the absolute best and fastest results.

Now, if your heel pain is related to a structural or biomechanical problem with your feet, you can pretty much guarantee that we’re going to recommend orthotics. That is a given, considering it’s the best way to prevent future incidences of heel pain over the long term.

However, adding laser therapy to that overall treatment plan can make the return to full activity much faster and more pleasant, and might just be essential for those who want to heal their heels in time for the next sports season or big hiking trip.

At Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates, we like giving our patients options so that they can custom tailor their treatment to their needs and goals. In addition to laser and orthotics, we may also recommend treatment options such as injections, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, or even new shoes.

We’ll be sure to discuss the pros and cons of every treatment procedure so that you can make an informed decision regarding your care.

Want real answers for your heel pain? Make sure you call Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates today. You can reach our Bloomington, IL office to schedule an appointment at (309) 661-9975.